Central Valley

Two men pull up mission to end 'sagging' in Fresno

Greg McCowan, left, with his "Pull 'Em Up" T-shirts, has joined forces with Don Martin, who runs Insight Design, which prints the shirts, as part of McCowan's campaign to encourage young men to stop wearing their pant waists around their knees -- a practice that originated in prisons.
Greg McCowan, left, with his "Pull 'Em Up" T-shirts, has joined forces with Don Martin, who runs Insight Design, which prints the shirts, as part of McCowan's campaign to encourage young men to stop wearing their pant waists around their knees -- a practice that originated in prisons. JOHN WALKER / THE FRESNO BEE

Greg McCowan and Don Martin have pretty much had it up to here -- make that "down to there" -- when it comes to young men wearing their britches around their kneecaps and putting their underwear on public display.

It's high time to pull those pants up, said McCowan, 61, and Martin, 38. And they're teaming up to spread the gospel against the fashion practice called "sagging."

McCowan, who grew up in Fresno and now lives in Oakland, and Martin, who runs a T-shirt and poster-printing shop in Fresno's Tower District, are embarking on a grass-roots campaign to encourage youths to hitch their pants back up where they belong.

Martin and McCowan are producing sweatshirts, T-shirts and posters with a message that encourages self-pride and offers a tongue-in-cheek rebuke: "Respect yourself, check yourself. Pull 'em up."

The design depicts a young man reaching down to yank his jeans up over his boxers.

"We're starting local because Fresno is our home," said Martin, owner of Insight Design and Print. "This is a movement to take our city and our country back to values of respect."

Sagging originated in prisons, where inmates were denied belts because they could be used for committing suicide by hanging.

But over the past decade or so, it's been popularized by musicians and rappers and mimicked by young men of all ethnic groups. "It's not just a black thing; it's everyone," said McCowan, a retired construction worker who now dabbles in graphic design.

McCowan said he has been bugged about sagging for years. But he was prompted to do something about it when he saw his sons and nephews letting their waistbands sag.

"Man, pull your pants up," he said. "Nobody wants to see your crack."

Martin and McCowan also are printing signs and posters with the "pull 'em up" message, as well as other signs proclaiming a "No Sag Zone" that they hope to encourage schools, churches and other public places to post.

"And in fairness, we're printing up shirts for the kids that say, 'I'll pull 'em up for a job,' " Martin said.

Finding a job already is difficult for many young people, McCowan said. It's even harder when the saggy-jeans look is a turn-off for most employers.

"They see these big stars wearing their pants low, so they do it to be part of the 'in' crowd," McCowan said. "But they're cheating themselves out of a chance, and they're doing it just for style."

Mentors in Fresno's African-American community say the message is sorely overdue.

"When I first saw the shirts, I was in awe," said Gerald Perry, a high school basketball coach who also runs a youth basketball academy. "The shirt speaks volumes."

And it does so in a non-threatening way, Perry added. "If you tell kids to do something, they take it as being disrespectful to them."

Martin and Perry said they've seen teens self-consciously reach down and casually raise their pants after seeing an adult wearing a "Pull 'em Up" shirt.

"No one is pointing a finger at them and telling them to pull their pants up; they just do it," Martin said. "If you see something enough and read it enough, you have to think about it."

Paul Copeland, executive director of Helping Our Own Destiny, or HOOD, a West Fresno youth outreach, agreed.

"We've been dealing with this situation for a long time," he said. "This shirt makes the same point, but it's more impactful" than just telling someone to pull up his pants.

Martin and McCowan say they're working with organizations like Copeland's and Perry's, and social media like Twitter, My-Space and Facebook, to reach a broader audience.

They're not necessarily aiming to duplicate the flash-in-the-pan success of "General" Larry Platt, whose 2010 appearance in auditions for the TV show "American Idol" became a viral video sensation with his song "Pants on the Ground," which lampooned the saggy-pants "gangsta" look:

"Pants on the ground, pants on the ground, lookin' like a fool wit' your pants on the ground."

"We want to get across the same message," Martin said. "But we don't want to just get laughs with it. That's the difference."

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